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The Illumination of James Henry

March 9, 2014

My Stearine Candles

He’s gone to bed at last, that flaring, glaring,
Round, red-faced, bold, monopolizing Sun,
And I may venture from their hiding-place
To bring my pair of stearine candles forth
And set them, firmly stayed, upon my table,
To illuminate and cheer my studious evening.
Thous hast praise, Prometheus, for thy theft,
And, were I to idolatry addicted,
Shouldst be my God in preference to Buddh,
Brahma, or Thor, or Odin, or Jove’s self.
Her of the olive branch I’d hold to thee
The next in honor, and before her shrine
In gratitude would keep for ever burning
A lamp of such Athenian oil as Plato,
Demosthenes, Pythagoras, and Solon
Were wont in bed to read by, after midnight.
The third, last person of my Trinity
Should be th’ inventor of the stearine candle;
He that enabled me to sit, the long
Midwinter nights, in study, by a light
Which neither flickers nor offends the nostrils,
Nor from the distance of a thousand miles,
Or thousand years, or both perhaps, keeps ever
And anon calling me — like some bold child
The mothers hand — to come and snuff and snub it;
But steady, cleanly, bright and inodorous,
Than tallow more humane, than wax less costly,
Gives me just what I want, and asks back nothing.

— James Henry, 1854

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